Dr. Casey T. Taft is Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and an internationally recognized researcher in the area of family violence prevention. Dr. Taft has published over 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles, chaired an American Psychological Association task force on trauma, and consulted with the United Nations on preventing violence and abuse globally. He has recently published two other books, Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective and Trauma-Informed Treatment and of Intimate Partner Violence. Dr. Taft is cofounder of Vegan Publishers and a dedicated vegan.
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dieticians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
Caryn Hartglass: (exhales) Going to breathe now. Everyone, breathe. (inhales) It’s always important to be mindful of our breathing, isn’t it? Haven’t talked about breathing for a while. We all breathe for a living. Don’t forget that.
Before I bring on my next guest, I wanted to mention: we have lost another wonderful advocate for veganism just a couple of days ago. My friend and college George Eisman passed. He was a dietitian and an author of several wonderful books: The Most Noble Diet: Food Selection and Ethics back in 1994 and his Don’t Let Your Diet Add to Your Cancer Risk. He did a lot of great speaking all over the country and abroad, and I was fortunate enough to see him last October. I’m so sorry to hear about his passing. So, George, thank you for everything.
All right, I want to bring on part 2’s guest: Casey T. Taft. Dr. Casey T. Taft is Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and an internationally recognized researcher in the area of family violence prevention. Dr. Taft has published over one hundred peer reviewed scientific articles, chaired an American Psychological Association task force on trauma, and consulted with the United Nations on preventing violence and abuse globally. He has recently published two other books: Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective and Trauma-Informed Treatment and Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence. Dr. Taft is cofounder of Vegan Publishers and a dedicated vegan. Casey, hello!
Casey T. Taft: Hi, Caryn. How are you?
Caryn Hartglass: I’m great. I love talking to dedicated vegans, thank you for being a dedicated vegan. (laughs)
Casey T. Taft: (chuckles) Sure. Also, I want to throw in there: we were very fortunate to publish George Eisman’s last book A Guide to Vegan Nutrition. We feel very honored to have that kind of distinction of carrying his book, getting to know him a little bit. We’re very sorry to hear the news about his passing as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, indeed. What can we do? Just breathe.
Casey T. Taft: Right, right. (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: And feel, right. Anyway, he was such a great guy. He was on the board of the Nalith Foundation, a wonderful organization that supports many vegetarian or vegan non-profit organizations, and the Nalith Foundation has been a wonderful supporter since our inception of Responsible Eating and Living. George Eisman was a part of that.
Casey T. Taft: Ah. Wow. (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, wow! Right? All right, Casey, let us talk about your book Millennial Vegan. Why did you write this book?
Casey T. Taft: (chuckles) As a psychologist and also as owner of Vegan Publishers, I often hear from younger vegans. They often post on our pages, they send us emails, and they write about their struggles being vegan, perhaps among family members, loved ones who are not too accepting of their veganism. Or they write about how they’re being bullied by other folks in their schools, other places or online. It really kind of struck me that there aren’t really any kind of resources for younger vegans, for millennial vegans (between ages of 15-34).
So, to me, this was my kind of support to help younger vegans because frankly I’m in awe of younger vegans who go vegan, in spite of all the obstacles, all the brainwashing we all experience. For myself and a lot of folks I know, it took a lot longer for things to click for us and to really develop awareness. But younger vegans do it at an earlier age, and I just wanted to put something out there, to provide a resource for them.
Caryn Hartglass: Very nice. I don’t know if you caught any of my last interview with Barbara King, the author of Personalities on the Plate, but talking about the scientific studies observing other species and how they react to each other in their own natural surroundings makes me think of what a higher intelligence might observe watching humans react to each other in our own circle. (chuckles)
Casey T. Taft: (chuckles) Yeah. Right, right.
Caryn Hartglass: I can’t imagine that it would really be impressive in some situations. I mean, the way we bully each other and respond to each other is really not something to be proud of, but it’s important to have an awareness and skills to manage through that. So that’s why your book is important.
Casey T. Taft: Right. Yeah. Well, my main job is a psychologist, and I develop programs to prevent violence and to work with people who engage in violence. That is one of my specialty areas, so I did want to make sure that I touched on bullying and touched on abuse so people can recognize when they’re experiencing it or even if they’re engaging in it, and do something to stop it.
Caryn Hartglass: Now you mentioned that you’re—I forget the words that you used exactly, awe, whatever words you used about younger people who choose to go vegan. I said this before on this program: sometimes I think it’s easier for younger people to make this change. They haven’t been around so long; they haven’t had a big history of eating animals for as long.
I know for myself I started on the vegetarian path when I was fifteen years old. I didn’t want to eat animals. But a part what gave me the strength was just wanting to be contrary. (chuckles)
Casey T. Taft: I can get a sense of that. I think it’s different for everybody.
Caryn Hartglass: It is.
Casey T. Taft: A lot of young people though, they’re really struggling with a lot of things. They’re struggling with their own identities. Many young people nowadays are struggling to find a job, to get out of student loan debt, to deal with all of the problems previous generations have sort of created in some ways.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes.
Casey T. Taft: In some ways, millennials really have it pretty bad relative to prior generations, economically and in other ways. For me, to deal with all of that and to still have the awareness to go vegan is impressive.
I know for myself when I was younger, I felt like I was too screwed up to make a change like that. I felt like I needed to get my life in order, figure things out, and get a firmer footing before I could make any kind of change. I think I knew at a younger age it was wrong to do harm to animals, to eat them and use them in various ways. On some level I knew, but I think I pushed it out of my awareness because I thought on another level maybe I wasn’t ready to deal with that. Because I was just trying to get my life together.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I do know that people can be pretty mean. I was in my late teens, early twenties, and my brother-in-law at the time was ruthless when we would all sit down for a family meal, bombarding me with questions. He was a lawyer (chuckles) and I know he was putting me under this grilling—that’s an interesting term to use when we’re talking about food—asking me all of these intense questions. And I had to speak up for myself. It was a really challenging time. So that’s why your book is important.
You know, I’m a tough cookie. I’m a strong person, and I don’t mind being in the midst of controversy. But for a lot of people it is hard, especially when there are so many other challenges.
It’s challenging too for adults. Another friend of mine (also a lawyer who is vegan) has had a really hard time in business being upfront when at a conference or at a lunch when they bring in food, to just speak up and say, “I need to eat this food and not this food. Can you make sure it’s here for me?”
Casey T. Taft: Yeah, and I think that’s true. The book could apply to any generation really. Most of it is how to communicate effectively, in general.
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly.
Casey T. Taft: When I’ve given talks on the book, I do have older folks who come and they get really active in the discussion. They talk about the struggles they have with communicating with their family members and navigating all these different kinds of situations. So it’s not only relevant for younger people. Even for myself, as an older adult, I’ve had to deal with all kinds of issues and, as a trained psychologist; I’ve still had difficulties communicating with loved ones.
Caryn Hartglass: (chuckles)
Casey T. Taft: So I certainly think this can apply to folks from any age group.
Caryn Hartglass: As I mentioned, I got on this path as a teenager and my parents were not thoroughly supportive. They let me do what I wanted to do; they gave me a lot of pushback. But I know it’s hard for many today, especially in high school or junior high school when the child is not the person buying the food or preparing the food. It can make it really, really challenging.
We have a transcription program where we have volunteers transcribe these radio programs like the one that we’re doing right now. It will be transcribed shortly. Sometimes I have high school students transcribe, and they share the same information that they want to be vegan.
Casey T. Taft: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: But they’re living at home, they can’t prepare their meals, shop for their meals. And it’s hard.
Casey T. Taft: Yeah. I hear those stories a lot. People message me about their situations fairly often, and it really is kind of heartbreaking where you have a younger person who really doesn’t want to do harm to animals and they feel like they don’t have a choice because they have no control over the food that they’re eating. It really is hard for them and I can’t imagine what that would feel like. You have a really, really strong moral conviction not to do harm to animals and yet you feel like you have no other choice but to consume them. That must be really hard.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Now you also have a section on how it’s lonely being vegan.
Casey T. Taft: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: I think it really depends on where you are. I imagine in some locations that’s really a lot lonelier than some other places. Fortunately, with social media, we have the opportunity to find like-minded people anywhere on the planet these days.
Casey T. Taft: Right, true, true. One can also feel lonely if you’re surrounded by people.
One form of loneliness that I often hear about is when the one is with people that they care about and people they perhaps their own lives they’ve been able to share how they’re growing; how they’re changing; how they’re evolving; their interests; what’s important to them; and then, all of a sudden, they’re going vegan and they want to share it with people they care about, and they get this kind of pushback. And they feel like nobody really wants to hear about it. In fact, sometimes just by our presences as vegans, some people get really defensive around us and feel like they have to defend themselves. Or defend eating animals or what have you. That can be alienating too.
Although for some folks, when they feel alienated or lonely when they share the message of veganism with loved ones, they try to share with other people what they’ve learned about harm they do to animals. And the other person who they know to be otherwise kind, compassionate, and caring, they’re totally non receptive to the message. That can also be really alienating.
So there’s lots of ways we can feel isolated and alienated, even if we do have other vegans around us. It certainly helps. The more vegan community we can build for ourselves in social media and all that does help, but it still can feel lonely when the people you care most about or you’re closest to—where you feel like they’re rejecting you or rejecting your message.
Caryn Hartglass: You brought up two different instances (chuckles) that I want to bring up and what we can do in those different situations. I really appreciated them because they happen all the time. I don’t quite remember the two.
Number one is somewhat positive. So you’re eating with your family or you’re in a restaurant, and the non-vegan person, non-vegetarian person is trying to help you in your selections or is aware of your eating differences and is making a point to bring that out. Their awareness of what you’re eating. Now, that’s a good thing, right? That sensitivity.
Casey T. Taft: Oh yes.
Caryn Hartglass: I know sometimes it can be frustrating when I’m eating in a restaurant—like when somebody says, “Oh, look. You can have this on the menu. You can have this on the menu.” (chuckles)
Casey T. Taft: Right, right.
Caryn Hartglass: You can read the menu too, but they feel the need to be helpful. Is there any good way to respond to that?
Casey T. Taft: When somebody is kind of positively showing understanding for your veganism—letting other people know that you appreciate that; when they do kind things for you; when they make you a vegan meal; or if they have a vegan gathering without animal products—I think it’s important in our relationship to not only let other people know when we’re unhappy about things, but also to point out the positives things people do for us.
That’s something we do a lot in couples therapy and family therapy where we try to work to show other people that we recognize when they do something nice for us. The more we pay attention to that, the more we let other people know that we noticed that, the more nice things that they’re going to do. You’re kind of reinforcing those positive behaviors.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I could do more of that. When somebody is pointing out on a menu what I can eat, I have this reaction like, “I can see what’s there!” (chuckles)
Casey T. Taft: (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: But I need to make an effort to be more encouraging, thankful, and appreciative for their concern.
Casey T. Taft: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: The other one is kind of the opposite, that is when people are—like you said—defensive. So you could be at a restaurant or you could just meet someone and they find out about what you eat, and the reaction is, “Oh, I don’t eat a lot of meat” or “I don’t consume a lot of dairy” or “I only do this.”
Casey T. Taft: Right, right.
Caryn Hartglass: As a psychologist, what’s happening?
Casey T. Taft: (chuckles) Well, what I think what is happening is that they’re experiencing some level of guilt and shame. Because we as vegans are really walking reminders of the harm other people do to non-human animals. (chuckles)
I think people have some general awareness that they’re eating dead animals, that they’re the creation of animals. I think they know that these animals are harmed in some way, but they find different ways to push it out of their awareness. But we are direct reminders of the harm that they do, so we can bring out these kinds of shame responses simply by saying that we’re vegan. Oftentimes, the more strongly we aggregate for animals, the stronger the shame responses are.
I typically argue that we should be mindful of how we’re engaging in animal advocacy, where we shouldn’t be name-calling or the really aggressive labeling of other people. Because that really heightens their shame response, and it makes it pretty much impossible that they’re going to listen to anything that we have to say.
On the other hand, we should not shy away from talking about the harm we do to animals. We shouldn’t shy away from speaking out for our animals. Some people are going to have the shame response no matter what we do. We have to keep in mind that we’re not responsible for their actions. They’re the ones who are ultimately responsible for their own feelings.
Caryn Hartglass: All the things you’re saying, especially this one, applies to everything, not just veganism.
Casey T. Taft: Right. (chuckles) Exactly, yes. You’re going to hear that a lot. A lot from psychologists, I’m sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. A lot of the advice that you bring up the book, managing relationships—all the advice that you give will work in dealing with your food choices. These are classic concepts in navigating relationships.
Casey T. Taft: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned dating vegetarians and being in a romantic relationship with someone who might not eat the same way you do. A few decades ago, I could have done that. I don’t think I could do it today unfortunately. I live with a wonderful man who is vegan.
Casey T. Taft: That’s good.
Caryn Hartglass: So we’re very happier. We both love to cook and we make great food. (chuckles)
Casey T. Taft: Yes. (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: Not everybody is as lucky. (chuckles)
Casey T. Taft: Right, exactly. (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: But, when you eat differently, that can magnify the problems you already have in communication.
Casey T. Taft: That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think that’s true. Also, like you’re suggesting, I could never date a non-vegan either. I’m married as well to a vegan.
But it’s hard to imagine being with somebody who has such a fundamental, different point of view ethically. Unless that person is open-minded and they’re willing to consider changing or they’re to change, grow, or evolve in some way, I think that would be really difficult. I do hear a lot of stories from vegans who are with a non-vegan, and they just decide at some point that they just can’t do it anymore because it kind of goes against their fundamental ethical belief. That really is difficult. I think it’s more challenging where folks who were non-vegan, they weren’t vegan when they started dating, and then one person changes and the other person doesn’t. That gets more complicated because they have differences in their expectations for their relationship. But it’s really difficult for a lot of couples to navigate these differences, for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Outside of this wonderful book, your bio says that you’re a Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. Do you have an opportunity to do any vegan proselytizing while you’re working at the university?
Casey T. Taft: (chuckles) That’s a good question.
Caryn Hartglass: (chuckles)
Casey T. Taft: To be honest, not too much. I’m primarily a clinical researcher, so I run groups. I run clinical trials. A lot of what I do is really working with patients and working with folks in my own lab and colleagues. So these conversations come up a little bit with my colleagues, but I’m not ever in front of a large group of students giving lectures about veganism.
Unfortunately, at this point of my career, my animal activism and my day job toward preventing violence towards humans, that of non-humans, are sort of separate. And I’m still trying to think of ways to bring it together because I do think all forms of violence and oppression are linked in various ways. So I would like to bring it together. I have actually started working on another book that does bring it together, more about how we can prevent all forms of violence. But in my day-to-day job, I mostly focus on how I can end domestic violence. Then when I get home, I focus on how we end violence towards non-human animals.
Caryn Hartglass: (chuckles) Dealing with the violence in a human relationship is a very real challenge. Humans can be violent and, yeah, we see it with how we treat other species. But we treat our own selves so grueling. We’re violent against our loved ones, and we’re violent against ourselves.
Casey T. Taft: Right. Yeah, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: How do we fix that? How do you treat that, Casey?
Casey T. Taft: How do you treat violence?
Caryn Hartglass: How do you treat that, yeah. (chuckles)
Casey T. Taft: (chuckles) That’s a tough—well, I can come up with a fast answer for that. I have written a book about that. What I found to be the most effective way to reach people is you have to—just like in animal advocacy—help somebody want to change. You have to figure out their terms in their readiness for changing and work with them to decide to make that change. To come up with a clear goal to change.
Just like in our animal advocacy, when I’m trying to get somebody to end their violence, I actually listen. I make an effort to listen to them and their stories. I listen to their history of trauma, and I have them tell their story. Once they tell their story and whatever they have experienced—most of the people I have worked with have been abused. They have experienced various forms of trauma. Once they feel like you listen to what they have to say, then they listen to what I have to say. And they’re more likely to join with me in ending various forms of violence and abuse.
So I think listening is a big part of it. Dealing with trauma is a big part of it. Helping them to make goals is a big part of it. Then teaching them really specific strategies for once they decide to make the change, how are they going to go about doing it. I wrote a book on this general idea that’s applied to animal advocacy called Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy, which I think the general rules for change and how we help other people change really are fairly consistent with whether we’re talking about animal advocacy or ending other forms of violence.
Caryn Hartglass: Casey Taft, thank you for all of that and thank you for being the kind, intelligent, sensitive person you are with humans. And with non-humans.
Casey T. Taft: (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: Which I think all of us appreciate the work that you’re doing. And for writing Millennial Vegan. Thank you for joining me in It’s All About Food today.
Casey T. Taft: Awesome. Thank you for having me. It was great.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. We’re just about out of time, so I wanted to thank you for joining me. And that was Casey T. Taft, author of Millennial Vegan: Tips for Navigating Relationships, Wellness, and Everyday Life as a Young Animal Advocate.
I wanted to remind you that coming up this Saturday is the beginning of The Food Revolution annual summit, and I’m a part of that, as I have been for the last years, offering up new recipes every day of the summit. It’s a nine-day event, it’s free. If you visit responsibleeatingandliving.com, you can sign up and register. It’s an amazing event. If you can’t listen in the morning when the interviews are aired, they are available for the whole twenty-four hours. Check it out.
It’s also Tuesday. All my shows are on Tuesday, but I just wanted to highlight that for those of you who are into Taco Tuesday. We have a Tasty Tempeh Taco Tuesday “Meat”! It’s a plant-based meat, of course, but it’s a wonderful recipe and you can find that that too on responsibleeatingandliving.com.
Whew! Well, look at that. Here we are, and it’s the end of another It’s All About Food show. Thank you so much for joining me. You can always find me at responsibleeatingandliving.com and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing from you. Thanks for listening, and remember: have a delicious week.
Transcribed by HT, 5/23/2017